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The sneezing, itchy/watery eyes, and other cold-like symptoms are known as hay fever. But spring allergies have nothing to do with hay or fever. Rather, they are caused by pollen and mold. Pollen comes from grass, trees, or ragweed. Mold grows outdoors in fields and on dead leaves.
Pollen and mold are hard to avoid. The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) says a single ragweed plant can let loose 1 billion tiny pollen grains. Mold spores are even more prevalent, as they grow all around.
Dr. Michael Foggs, an allergist and president of the ACAAI, says we all have an allergy protein in our bodies and we all breathe in pollen and mold. Pollen and mold are forms of “allergens” which means they can cause an allergic reaction in those who are sensitive to those allergens, which is about 25% of people. An allergic response happens when a protein in the blood called immunoglobin E (rIgE) releases a chemical called histamine.
Histamine tightens small blood vessels of the nose, making fluids leak out into other tissues. This causes noses to run, eyes to water, and skin to itch and swell—the classic symptoms of spring allergies.
The first step is to give your doctor a full history. This will involve details about your life, home and work environment, as well as your eating habits. The doctor is looking for clues as to which “allergen” may be causing your spring allergies.
Your doctor may test for allergies by placing small amounts of common allergens on your skin, usually on your forearm or back. If you are allergic, your skin will become red, swollen, or itchy.
Once you know what’s causing your allergies, your doctor may suggest over the counter drugs to fight your runny nose, sneezing, and itching. Allergy drugs come in tablets, nose sprays, eye drops, and liquid form. In some cases, the doctor might suggest allergy shots.
Limiting exposure to the allergens also can help reduce symptoms. The ACAAI suggests these:
Allergies don't only affect us as grown-ups, though! We interviewed a bunch of kids to find out their thoughts on allergies. Their adorable reactions inspire us to learn more about allergies and how we can help ourselves stay comfortable!
Do you have a tried and true way to survive allergy season? Let us know your tricks in the comments.
Originally published 5/20/2016; Revised 2020
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